The Hippocampus and the Regulation of Human Food Intake

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Abstract

Human and animal data suggest that the hippocampus plays certain roles in regulating food intake. However, its actual role may be far broader than currently envisaged, a claim suggested by the centrality of the hippocampus to so many aspects of human/animal cognition. Understanding these ingestion-related functions is especially significant. This is because some degree of hippocampal impairment may be quite common, resulting for example from a Western-style diet, insomnia, diabetes, and depression—among many other causes. One potential consequence of hippocampal impairment could be a loosening of food intake regulation, leading in the longer-term to weight gain and its health-related impacts. Here we review known, suspected and newly hypothesized hippocampal-dependent functions involved in regulating human food intake: (a) declarative memory processes, and their use in explicitly evaluating when, what and how much to eat; (b) interoception, as it relates to hunger, fullness and thirst; (c) inhibitory processes, especially as applied to physiological state, place, and time, and their role in modulating memory retrieval; (d) craving and imagery for food; (e) perception of time and its role in preparing the body for food intake and estimating meal length; (f) trace conditioning and nutrient-related learning; and (g) inhibition of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal stress response and stress-related eating. For each we present evidence for hippocampal involvement, describe the putative regulatory role, and the hypothesized effects of hippocampal impairment. We conclude that the hippocampus is intimately involved in regulating human food intake via multiple interconnected pathways, many of which are unstudied and understudied.

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